By Dr. Stacey Maslow
Reliant Medical Group Pediatrics
It’s a classic image that most of us are familiar with – a parent spoon-feeding some baby food to a child in a highchair. However, for some families that image is changing. Baby-led weaning is a method that allows babies to have small pieces of solid food beginning at age six months instead of eating traditional baby food. Baby-led weaning also encourages the babies to feed themselves instead of being spoon-fed by an adult.
Baby-led weaning isn’t exactly new, it was popularized in the United Kingdom about a decade ago and has a long history with many different cultures around the world. Many people feel there are significant benefits to baby-led weaning, including promoting eye-hand coordination, increased dexterity and chewing skills, and overall healthy eating habits. Some experts also feel it helps babies learn to stop eating when they are full, and encourages good eating habits as they get older. However, there have been few scientific studies on baby-led weaning to prove all the claimed benefits.
If you would like to try baby-led weaning with your child, you should wait until they reach the age of six months. This is because a child’s digestive system needs to be mature enough to handle solid food. Children’s baby teeth also start to appear at this age, which helps them chew solid food. Babies at this age have also lost the protective tongue-thrust reflex that automatically pushes solid food out of their mouth with their tongue. Before starting baby-led weaning, your baby should also be able to sit in a high chair unassisted. Below are some additional tips to get you started.
Begin first with soft foods – Many parents start with cooked foods including egg yolks, moist and shredded meats, vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes, pastas, as well as ripened fruits. These softer foods make it easier for the baby to chew.
Make sure you prep properly – Food that can be grasped should be cut into long, thin pieces about the size of your pinky finger. Serving “finger food” makes it easier for babies to feed themselves.
Pinky-size foods are best started at 7-8 months. This is due to the fact that babies start developing their pincer grasp (the ability to pick up and grasp food between their thumb and forefinger) at this age.
Dine Together – Having your infant dine at the table with other family members during baby-led weaning is all part of the fun. Remember that it’s perfectly normal for a baby to play with their food before eating it.
Don’t worry about baby teeth – Even if your child has none or only a few, it’s okay to let them try soft foods.
Breast-feeding is still on the menu – Remember that baby-led weaning does not mean discontinuing breastfeeding or infant formula. Either of these two methods will continue to be your child’s biggest source of nutrition until they are 11 or 12 months old.
Be safe – Be sure to avoid any foods that could be a choking hazard such as grapes, raisins, hot dogs, popcorn and raw vegetables (among others). Meat and fish should be cut in small pieces and cooked thoroughly. It’s also a good idea to learn the infant-specific Heimlich maneuver in case it is ever needed.
Don’t force it – Let your child set their own pace. Some babies will be quicker to adapt to solid food than others. In fact, many babies will need to be exposed to foods multiple times before they are willing to accept them – this is perfectly normal.
Don’t forget the bib – chances are, things will get a little messy. Be prepared.
If you would like to try baby-led weaning with your child, it’s always a good idea to talk to your pediatrician for tips and advice. You can learn more about infant food and feeding at the American Academy of Pediatrics website.
About Stacey Maslow, MD
Dr. Maslow has been practicing medicine for 17 years. When asked why she became a doctor, Dr. Maslow explains, “As a small child I frequented urban areas while accompanying my grandmother on various immigration and health projects that were her passion. These experiences sparked my fascination with how city life effects people and their physical and emotional health. I decided at the age of 11 that I wanted to be a doctor because I...View profile View posts by this doctor